Kantianism and the Futility Worry

We welcome back philosophy contributor Eliot Michelson whose controversial first post stirred things up a bit. In his promised follow-up, Michaelson continues searching for solutions to the worries presented over the summer. I hope you’ll continue to share you thoughts below as we develop more sound arguments for ethical veganism.

– Joshua Katcher, Editor
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By Eliot Michaelson, Ph.D. Candidate

After my last post, several of my friends in philosophy started pushing on me the thought that perhaps we have a duty not to eat animals — a duty stemming from the fact that animals exhibit certain qualities (sentience, an ability to feel pain, or whatever) that suffice to grant them moral significance.  (Interestingly, some of the most adamant proponents of this line of thought have been non-vegetarians, which has started to make me feel like I’m inhabiting a strange inverted world.)  These discussions got me thinking: might we have such a duty?  I should preface my remarks by saying that I’m very sympathetic to the idea that we have lots of duties to each other, and to animals.  I have a duty not to kill other people, for instance, nor should I kill animals.  In fact, I think I should also help people (and animals) out where I can, when I can.  And I don’t mean that I just think it’s nice for us to do these things if we feel like it.  No, I actually think it’s mandatory to help people out where you can.  And I think that ‘where you can’ is a lot more inclusive than just about any of us are living up to.  All that is to say, I’ve got nothing against duties; I think there are lots and lots of them.  And I think that recognizing these duties is an important part of coming to better understand our moral lives.  Still, I wondered, do we have a duty to be vegetarian?

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